Time to stop scrimping on football stewarding
A spotlight has been thrown on security at football matches, and the stewarding of the sport is an area with clear work to be done.
In early March, a Birmingham City supporter received a jail sentence after attacking Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish. The same weekend, Manchester United’s Chris Smalling was also targeted by a fan that had run onto the pitch to cause trouble.
This flurry of incidents has at least prompted debate on the subject. Of course, this can only be a positive for the game.
It is remarkable how the richest sport in the UK is still so poorly managed in and around stadiums, particularly the further down you go down the football ladder.
I have zero faith in the hi-vis staff in front of me at a football match
Towards the end of the FA Cup quarter-final between Swansea and Manchester City, a ‘fan’ ran onto the pitch and basically had free rein to do what he liked. One steward ambled after him, and I mean ambled.
Another looked like they could barely walk as he clambered unsteadily over the advertisement hoardings. Football stewarding must be way more proactive. And here lies the problem with lower league clubs in particular.
Football stewarding not fit for the game
As a regular lower league football attendee, the stewarding presence is frighteningly bad. It’s no good just dressing people in a hi-vis jacket. It’s not even good enough to look aggressive enough so fans wouldn’t dare attempt running onto a pitch. Sporting events shouldn’t be treated like nightclubs.
You can count on one hand the amount of stewards who can actually keep up with a 20-something year-old fan. Security staff need to be fitter and more able to react.
I have zero faith in the hi-vis staff in front of me at a football match. Sure, they can tell a person to keep a walkway clear on the terraces. But catch a sidestepping supporter? Little chance I’m afraid.
Across the board, the powers that be – FA, Premier League and EFL must start taking football stewarding as professionally as other areas of the sport. They need to stop scrimping on security.
Pay must reflect importance of the role
One significant factor at clubs is that the increasingly vast sums of cash generated do not flow through the staffing. A list released in 2018 revealed football clubs to be among the worst for underpaying their workers.
Indeed, some media positions I encounter at both Premier League and Football League clubs are woefully underpaid. I dread to think what’s on offer for those charged with ensuring safety.
With big, sometime global conglomerates involved in club ownership, surely more can be found for the people entrusted to protect their most precious commodity – players. Better salaries generally lead to a better standard of service.
Combine this with regular fitness tests for football stewards and better training for real-life/in-game scenarios.
More work needs to be done at ground level. Until then, we will continue to witness sprightly fans running away from unfit security staff. Much like a typical Benny Hill sketch, but the joke is on the clubs and their staffing choices.